It’s bad enough holding dolphins in captivity so people can pay to swim with them. And it’s bad enough that baby alligators were being brought to children’s parties and being dropped into swimming pools with their mouths taped shut so that the kids could swim with them and pet them.
But now there’s a new craze going around in Florida: Swim with a Siberian tiger cub.
Siberian tigers are solitary animals who roam the vast wilderness of northeast Russia. Thanks to poachers who sell them for quack medicine and floor rugs, there are very few left. But nothing could be more alien to a Siberian tiger than to be at a zoo in subtropical Florida, forced to swim with children whose parents pay $200 for a 30-minute “experience” at Dade City’s Wild Things.
The story comes to us from Good Morning America as the hosts chat with the show’s supposed expert, Matt Guttman, all dressed up in a hunky wetsuit as he tries to restrain a clearly distressed six-week-old tiger cub who’s paddling frantically toward the side of the pool. George Stephanopoulos seems to think it’s all hilarious. What are these people thinking?
Guttman even justifies the whole sorry business by saying it’s safer for people to be in the water with a tiger (because she’s preoccupied with swimming) than to be interacting with her on land. What are we supposed to make of this wildlife wisdom? Here’s GMA in action:
Animal protection groups call the whole thing abusive and dangerous to the animals.
“The cubs are awakened repeatedly for anyone who will pay to pet them or take photos with them,” said one critic on 911 Animal Abuse. “Cubs don’t like holding still for petting sessions and photo opportunities. The swimming solves that problem … because the cub has to swim for dear life.”
The zoo says that Siberian tigers are good at swimming. And it’s true that their paws are well adapted to swimming. But in a chlorinated pool in Florida with an audience of families and squealing humans?
In September 2011, the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued a warning citation to Dade City’s Wild Things last year for a number of violations, including an incident in which a handler forced a tiger cub into a swimming pool after the animal appeared hesitant to enter the water. When the animal tried to get out of the pool, the handler forced it to keep swimming. According to the report:
The cub swam towards the handler located at the pool wall and extended its paws towards the edge of the pool apparently wanting to get out of the pool. Instead of pulling the cat out of the water and stopping the encounter the handler decided to continue with the swimming.
Oh, and if you’ve had enough of swimming with the tigers, you can hop into the pool again with an alligator whose mouth has been taped shut. What a thrill.
(For a supremely moronic news clip on the topic, watch this inane reporter who seems to think it’s all just good fun and fine entertainment for the kids.)